NSPE Gateway to Government Spring 2012
In This Issue of PEG e-News...

Responsible Use of Social Media Requires Leadership, Discretion

Steven Storts

Up until a few years ago, many public agencies or their employees were still reluctant to engage in online social networking activities in the workplace, particularly at the state and local levels. In some instances, agencies were blocking access to the more popular Web 2.0 sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube or banning their office use during business hours. To a certain extent, this reluctance was due to a lack of proper guidance on the use of social media by employees; for others, the anxiety was simply a matter of feeling uncomfortable at sharing information with an unfamiliar online audience.

Attitudes are changing, though, almost as fast as social media technology itself. Today, law enforcement and emergency preparedness officials across the United States, and some federal agencies too, have become the pioneers in social media advancement in the public sector for the expressed purpose of safeguarding the citizenry. Engineering professionals who work in the public fields of transportation, energy, environmental protection, and infrastructure are also using social networking more frequently in their business activities to link with information sources and additional expertise outside the government environment.

Contrary to popular opinion, social networking is not a “millennial thing,” as often touted. Pingdom, an online business monitoring service, reports that the average user of a major social media site is 40 years old. The average age breakdown for users is as follows: LinkedIn, 44; Facebook, 38; and Twitter, 39. More than 60 percent of Facebook users are 35 or older, and nearly 65 percent of Twitter users are beyond age 35.            

For engineering managers in municipal government, civic engagement has become a critical factor not only in providing traditional services but also in finding new ways to meet rising challenges in growing communities. Social media are now serving as viable communication tools for getting the local public involved in a timely manner to help shape the policies and decisions that will impact their lives. While some officials acknowledge that community outreach via online social forums can occasionally be risky, they also contend that failure to not make the social connection on vital public issues can have far worse consequences.

Nevertheless, if a government agency chooses to use social media on a wide or limited basis, it must be prepared to encounter both positive and negative content, regardless of how favorable or unpopular the message might be toward the agency or its mission. Most public officials agree, though, that any content from users that is ugly, offensive, and completely out of context should not be posted or deemed worthy of consideration.

State governments have not been “socially” idle, either. Less than two years ago, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers conducted a survey of social media adoption by governments in 43 states and territories, representing nearly 80% of the U.S. population. NASCIO’s research examined adoption trends, current applications and expectations of social media technologies, the extent to which implementation is governed by formal policies, and perceptions of risk associated with social media use.

Not surprising, the survey results reflect that social networking is being actively adopted and used throughout state governments across the country as a means of increasing transparency and opening dialogue with public constituents. However, the report also notes there is a “parallel lag” between social media use and policy or governance mechanisms at the state level. NASCIO cites cautionary concern in the areas of acceptable use, security, and legal terms of service that currently govern use of the free social media tools that state governments are now employing.

The Institute for Local Government, too, echoes potential concern for legal implications involving agency use of social media. These could include First Amendment issues relating to government restrictions on free speech or the use of public resources for both personal and political purposes. Other legal obstacles could evolve over restrictions on employee use of social media, both on behalf of the agency and personally, or challenge the more contentious issues surrounding the management and disclosure of public records.

Of those states responding in the NASCIO survey, only one-third currently have enterprise policy frameworks addressing social media, but a sizable number of states have indicated the need for acceptable social networking practices or are in the process of drafting or adopting standards. Also in its report, NASCIO notes that many state governments, even in the absence of any formal policies, are still providing leadership and guidance informally to agencies regarding social media initiatives.

NASCIO points out that at first glance, it may appear that state governments are relying on individual responsibility or individual lines of public business to determine their own policies or the extent of social media use. Upon closer scrutiny, however, it is possible that some state agencies have some level of comfort or trust that individual units have valid reasons for compelling use of social media and are operating within broader legal policy context for acceptable use.

To help allay the legal concerns for advancing a fair and reasonable social networking framework in the public sector, the Center for Technology in Government recommends eight essential elements that should be considered as best practices in any policy adopted:  employee access, account management, acceptable use, employee conduct, content, security, legal issues, and citizen conduct.

And for those professional engineers who may be seeking a little more exclusivity in their selection of social media, there is a free members-only online community that is steadily gaining popularity: GovLoop. Launched in 2008, this networking site encourages sharing of information in a professional manner among public employees and officials at all levels of government and has expanded its membership to more than 50,000.

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Nuclear Regulatory Commission Engineer Gets Top Honor


Steven Arndt, Ph.D., P.E., a senior technical advisor for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has been named NSPE’s 2012 Federal Engineer of the Year. Arndt received the honor during the 33rd Annual FEYA Banquet at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on February 23. This year, NSPE was honored to have Congressman David McKinley (R-WV) serve as the keynote speaker.

Sponsored by NSPE and the Professional Engineers in Government, FEYA recognizes engineers working for federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Naval Facilities Command, and the U.S. Air Force, for their dedication and exemplary service to the public.

For more information on the FEYA program, including the full press release, visit the
FEYA Web page.

You can also watch the keynote speech as well as interviews with several semifinalists and the winner addressing current topics facing the engineering profession on NSPE's YouTube channel.

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Happenings on the Hill

In January, NSPE joined more than 1,000 professional, trade, and nonprofit organizations; businesses; and labor groups in sending a letter to Congress urging expedient passage of a long-term transportation reauthorization bill. The letter, part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's campaign "Make Transportation Job #1," acknowledged the funding challenges Congress faces but stressed the benefits of infrastructure investment to the U.S. economy.

While the Senate had passed its two-year, $109 billion transportation bill, the House continues to wrangle over its version of the bill. With the current transportation funding extension set to expire in June, Congress must move quickly—but partisan rancor and election-year politics have raised doubts that Congress will be able to pass a long-term bill before November.

  • NSPE met with Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA-8) and staff to discuss the Good Samaritan Protection for Construction, Architectural, and Engineering Volunteers Act (H.R. 1145). The bill, which Reichert introduced last year, would provide qualified immunity to engineering, architectural, and construction entities volunteering in a declared emergency. NSPE also met with senior staff for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to advocate Good Samaritan protection for professional engineers volunteering in an emergency.

  • Rep. Dan. Lipinski (D-IL-3) sponsored a House resolution (H. Res. 552) supporting the goals and ideals of National Engineers Week. Lipinski, an engineer, has introduced a resolution in support of EWeek every year since 2006. Watch his floor speech here.

  • NSPE cosponsored the Society of Women Engineers' "Diversity and Inclusion Fuels Innovation in STEM" Capitol Hill Day. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden made brief remarks during the legislative briefing, outlining NASA's diversity efforts and urging women to mentor each other in order to increase diversity in the engineering profession.

    The event also included a congressional reception, where Reps. Judy Biggert (R-IL-13), Robert Dold (R-IL-10), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30), Dan Lipinski (D-IL-3), and Silvestre Reyes (D-TX-16), as well as National Science Foundation Deputy Director Cora Marrett, spoke about the importance of broadening participation in STEM fields.

  • NSPE President Christopher M. Stone, P.E., F.NSPE, F.ASCE, LEED AP, was the keynote speaker at the Department of Transportation's National Engineers Day, which encourages high school students to pursue careers in engineering. Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez also spoke. As part of his presentation, Stone led students in a rousing game of Jeopardy! The interactive event also included a robotics competition and engaged students in discussion groups. Read Administrator Mendez's blog about National Engineers Day here.

  • NSPE attended the launch of the MathAlive! exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. MathAlive! seeks to increase elementary and middle school students' interest in mathematics by engaging them in hands-on activities that demonstrate math's applications in video games, sports, fashion, music, robotics, and more. NSPE and MATHCOUNTS are cosponsoring the exhibit, which is presented by Raytheon.

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NSPE Continuing Education on Sale!

NSPE has many interesting and pertinent Web seminars lined up for the remainder of the Spring line up. Check out the following webinars, and keep in mind they can be used per site, offering great value to you and your coworkers.

Engineering Ethics: A Conversation About Expert Witness and Engineering Review Issues
Join NSPE Deputy Executive Director and General Counsel Arthur Schwarz and a panel of engineering ethics experts for a discussion on the obligation to reimburse a payment advance, limiting the scope of an engineering review, working for a law firm client involved in litigation with a former law firm client, and a forensic study dependent upon work of engineer in dispute with a client. Polling questions and a Q&A will allow opportunities for audience interaction. 1 PDH

April 18, 12:30–1:30 p.m. (E.S.T.)

Historical Cases & Engineering Ethics
Cultivating an understanding of ethics is essential for engineers as they conduct their professional lives. A different approach is to examine historical cases, which can offer a different perspective on professional responsibilities. This webinar presentation will consider several issues in engineering ethics, such as unintended consequences; professional responsibility and judgment; and concern for human health, safety and welfare, using historical cases as examples. One of the more important lessons is, as the philosopher G.W.F. Hegel noted, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.”

April 24, 12:30–1:30 p.m. (E.D.T.)

Focus on Shop Drawings: Vital Link Between Design and Construction
This program will focus on contractual and legal issues regarding the preparation, submittal, and review of shop drawings. This course will provide in-depth discussion of:

  •     Key issues arising from shop drawing provisions in standard construction contracts;
  •     Shop drawing review practices for contractors, architects, and engineers; and
  •     Court cases examining shop drawing duties and liabilities.

May 15, 12:30–1:30 p.m. (E.S.T.)

Engineering Ethics: A Conversation About Business, Employment, and Licensure Issues
Join NSPE Deputy Executive Director and General Counsel Arthur Schwarz and a panel of engineering ethics experts for a discussion on the signing and sealing of a subcontractor’s calculations, a Canadian firm’s noncompliance with engineering licensure laws, obtaining professional references, and an employee’s awareness of his employer’s financial improprieties. Polling questions and a Q&A will allow opportunities for audience interaction. 1 PDH

May 16,  12:30–1:30 p.m. (E.S.T.)

Visit the NSPE Web site to register today.
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201112 PEG Executive Board Contact Information

David Alan Janover, P.E.

Kirankumar Topudurti, Ph.D., P.E.

Scott Wolf, P.E., PLS

Immediate Past-Chair
Sandra Knight, P.E., F.NSPE, F.ASCE

Northeastern Region Vice Chair
David N. Rackmales, P.E.

Southeastern Region Vice Chair
Bill Bowie, PE

Central Region Vice Chair
Dr. Scott Haraburda, P.E., Ph.D

Southwest Region Vice Chair
Mark Dubbin, P.E.

Western & Pacific Region Vice Chair
Patrick M. Coullahan, P.E., PMP, CFM

North Central Region Vice Chair
Donald Neumann, P.E.

Young Engineer Representative
Josh Aldred, P.E.

HOD Representative
Sandra Knight, P.E., F.NSPE, F.ASCE

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